Sounds like … a WOW-styled compilation of pop and folk styled independent artists reminiscent of Indigo Girls, Dave Barnes, Jars of Clay, Jonatha Brooke, Keane, Rich Mullins and more.
At a glance … though there are certainly some good picks represented here, diversity is seriously lacking in a collection that's billed as the "Top 20" in the Indie scene.
For the past couple of years, I've been reviewing Indie projects for this fine publication, and I'll be the first to admit that it's not always easy to find quality artists to highlight every couple weeks. It's certainly not for a lack of projects to consider, that's for sure. But thanks to the quality of home recording technology available these days, finding the diamonds in the rough isn't as difficult as it used to be—it's now a matter of discerning the finest diamonds.
Which is why I was surprised by the lack of musical diversity on Top 20 Indie 08, a new WOW-styled collection of independent artists. Selected from Indieheaven.com's pool of artists by a panel of music industry experts from Indelible Creative Group and Indieheaven insiders, the majority of the artists featured fall squarely into predictable folk-pop territory.
There's nothing wrong with that particular genre, of course—it's one of my personal favorites, it's generally smarter than most Christian music, and as far as independent music goes, it's one of safest bets since it's so quick and cheap to record. That said, there are a slew of quality rock, pop, and urban gospel acts worth considering from the indie scene, and this particular Top 20 "list" doesn't touch on them.
Parsing semantics, perhaps, but if you're going to declare your project the Top 20 independent artists of 2008, there has to be more stylistic diversity represented to be fully credible. That considerable flaw aside, there are still some gems worth noting. Michael Blakemore's whimsical opener "Passengers" is a gorgeously crafted, falsetto-laced pop song that would make Keane envious, and Sharon Wilber's stellar pipes and sassy delivery makes "Ain't a Nobody" a genuine standout.
After the first third of the disc, however, the pacing begins to noticeably lag. Alathea's "My Roots Go Deeper," a pleasant enough song, is not the group's best work ("Hurricane" from their same album recently won at a songwriting competition). Ditto for Sandra McCracken's Alison Krauss double-take "Grace Upon Grace" and Mitch McVicker's by-the-numbers "Hallelujah"—neither truly represents the best of these capable artists.
Instead of choosing so many middle-of-the-road sleepers for this project, it would've been great to mix it up with a terrific soul artist like Alyce Metallo, the jam band rock of Iconoclast, or the lush, experimental pop of Jeremy Casella—just a few examples that would have helped to provide a more accurate snapshot of Christian music's impressive indie scene. Top 20 Indie 08 sounds more homogenous than the average WOW Hits album, which is ironic considering that independent music isn't bound by genre or record label politics.
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